Kari is studying Early Childhood and Family Studies at the University of Washington and Linda is a BSD mom of two. Here is what they had to say about volunteering at Jing Mei elementary.

Kari is a graduate of Bellevue School District. She spent her early years in China and moved here in high school. While taking Japanese in high school, her class had a Japanese college student visit their class weekly to help with conversational Japanese and to talk about Japanese culture. Kari was inspired by his work and decided then that at some time in the future she would volunteer her Chinese language skills while sharing her knowledge of Chinese culture.

Last year Kari worked with a 1st grade classroom at Jing Mei and this year is working with a 2nd grade classroom, many of which are the same students she worked with in 1st grade. In the first grade classroom, she often worked with students who had fallen behind on their classwork or needed support in writing Chinese characters. She would generally be with the children in the back of the classroom, helping them stay on task. “Some of the children were very outgoing and energetic. I enjoyed talking with them and encouraged them to talk to me in Chinese to practice their language skills.”

In the second grade classroom, Kari works with all the students. “After the teacher gives out the instructions, I go around to the different groups to ensure they understand. Whenever a student has a question and raises their hand, I go to that student’s table and help them.”

Linda also works in a 2nd grade classroom at Jing Mei. “I come for an hour and help with whatever they are doing – Mandarin, math, science…. I work across the whole classroom, helping whoever raises their hand. I’ve also figured out that a few of the kids are very shy and reluctant to raise their hand, so I keep an eye on them to make sure they are keeping up.”

Kari is amazed at the students’ progress in just one year. Last year in first grade “I noticed a student who barely talked in Chinese and seemed to not understand much Chinese when I tried to talk to her. She relied on her friends to translate Chinese to English for her. This year I have had a chance to work with her again and I am amazed at how much she has improved. She writes and speaks in Chinese much more fluently this year. During a social-emotional class lesson (students take turns to praise each other), her classmates noticed and praised her progress. They care so much about each other.”

Linda is also very impressed. “I know many of the kids here do not speak Mandarin at home, so the only practice they get is here in the classroom. It amazes me how they can write difficult characters, not just the simple ones, and even compose in Mandarin.”

Sometimes the learning is more conversational. One week Kari’s class was working on an on-going science project where students observed and recorded the transformation of some insects. “I remember a child looking at the bugs and explaining patiently to me about their body components and habits and her latest observations. I listened carefully and prompted her with questions and asking for more details (in Chinese). It took me a while to recall the meaning of some of the scientific terms, but these children could easily apply and explain them in their conversation with me in Chinese. That is the power of bi-lingual education!”

Linda says “…sometimes the kids will have a hard time focusing and staying with the work. They would prefer to talk and share a story. So I let them share their story, but then tell them we should work on the worksheet some, so that if they have any questions I can help them while I am here. One child once responded – Why can’t you come more often? So a little time for them to share and then we spend time on school work. A lot of give and take.

Linda hopes that more Mandarin speaking members of the community will volunteer at Jing Mei, regardless of their English skills. She would like to see more volunteers at Jing Mei to build and grow the community. “I only spend an hour a week at Jing Mei, but I feel a strong sense of accomplishment and people are happy with me. The teacher I work with is very flexible and very responsive. Makes volunteering easy and you get to work in a happy environment.”

Kari encourages everyone to get involved. “Learning should always be interactive and enjoyable. It is more than information processing. It is about interaction within a community of learners. Students can learn from their teachers, from their peers, from their community. Be caring. They know when you care about them and welcome you in their own ways.”

The VIBES Mentor Tutor Program recruits, screens and trains community volunteers to work in BSD schools supporting students and classrooms.  Volunteers work during the school day, on school campus, under staff supervision.  VIBES asks all community volunteers to commit to at least one hour per week for the duration of the school year.  Want to do more than an hour a week?  GREAT!

For more details see our website:   www.bsd405.org/vibes.